Celebrate Homesteading Month with Chelsea Green

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It’s September, which means it’s time to celebrate homesteading!

That’s right, September is International Homesteading Education Month, and throughout the month we’ll be publishing some of our favorite homesteading tips, techniques, recipes, and more. We’ll be featuring some of our favorite homesteading authors including Ben and Penny Hewitt, Beth and Shawn Dougherty, and Carole Deppe. We’ll also be sharing a few sneak peek excerpts from upcoming books by Gabe Brown and Eliot Coleman.

In this day and age, we spend so much of our time digitally focused that homesteading holds a particular draw for many who yearn to reconnect with the land, forge a path towards self-sufficiency, and find meaning in everyday life. Whether you’re working with four acres of land or forty, there is always room to refine your techniques and learn from the wisdom of those who’ve faced similar challenges.

Throughout the month, you can find advice on farm planning and land measuring to how to maintain proper soil health to choosing the best family cow. We’ll also offer up tips for preserving your bounty, building a root cellar, and making some delicious fall harvest meals.

And don’t forget to check out some of our other homesteading articles:

Homesteading Q&A: Solutions for Stumps, Smelly Chicken Manure, and More.

How to Choose the Right Breed for Your Poultry Flock.

Why Acquiring Land Presents a Challenge for New Homesteaders.

To get started, let’s first clear up a few misconceptions about homesteading. The following excerpt is from Up Tunket Road by Philip Ackerman-Leist. It has been adapted for the web.

Misconception #1: “ Finding a piece of land”

Unfortunately, our culture tends to assume that homesteading, however you choose to define it, is an act that begins with finding a piece of land. Yet with the advantage of hindsight after years of homesteading, I think homesteading starts well before there’s a place involved. It involves a kind of learning generally not embraced by our educational system or our culture of instantaneous information.

I believe that homesteading begins first by questioning the status quo. Sometimes the questions are ecological in nature, but they may just as often be related to personal health, spiritual quests, cultural morals, or technological concerns. This questioning of the status quo is generally followed by listening, observing, apprenticing, and experimenting, often for many years before there is ever a piece of property—or an apartment or an anchorage—where one decides to put down roots. In fact, there doesn’t even have to be a place associated with homesteading: It can be a state of mind instead of a state of residence.

Sadly, many of us now have to relearn how to homestead because so many of the necessary skills that were once considered an ordinary part of life were traded in for a manufactured life of relative ease and convenience over the course of just a few generations. Those all-too-rare people who can teach us how to homestead can also teach us why to homestead. Knowing why keeps us doing it on the days when it’s not as simple as we thought when we first started . . . and it reminds us where we were headed when we waved goodbye to a more familiar life and struck out for unfamiliar territory—even if that new territory was mostly just the uncharted terrain of our own minds.

Misconception #2: “in a rural setting”

For some of us, perhaps. However, homesteading, as our culture typically portrays it, has been predominantly a monochrome and middle- to upper-class phenomenon over the years, following bucolic footsteps into pastoral and forested settings . . . and that’s not where most of the world is headed. We just recently crested the global demographic wave at which point more humans now live in cities than elsewhere.

If we believe that homesteading values, skills, and technologies are relevant in their utility for persons of all places and persuasions, and that the homesteading “movement” can bene t from a diversity of perspectives and approaches, then it’s high time for us to shed the notion that homesteading is exclusively a rural, back-to-the-land phenomenon, reserved only for those financially comfortable enough to make the deliberate choice to explore the flip side of the contemporary American dream, swapping comfort for vulnerability, convenience for complexity, and paved routes for country roots. And if homesteaders are indeed pioneers in the search for more appropriate values and lifestyles, then the true frontiers for such collaborative exploration include urban areas, suburbs, and crumbling rural communities—not just the old Mother Earth News backwoods dream.

Lest I be accused of hypocrisy, for I have certainly followed the trajec- tory of the homesteading tradition into the forests and elds of several mountain cultures, I should make it clear that I simply believe that we all have preferences for certain environments, places that we call home and make home. Homesteading, at its best, is a way of transforming skills and values into a lifestyle, no matter where one feels most at home.

I confess to being of a back-to-the-land persuasion—deeply influenced by the rich literary tradition of a host of rural homesteaders and agrarians—but as I explore the concept of homesteading with students from urban and suburban backgrounds, as well as from other countries, it is clear to me that it makes little sense to encourage the next generation of homesteaders to carve up the remainder of our relatively intact natural ecosystems simply for the sake of well-intentioned homesteading experiments, particularly when the transformation of our suburban, urban, and rural neighborhoods and ecosystems is so critical.

Finally, while this next generation seems to find homesteading values, skills, and technologies appealing, many of them are not so excited about the prospects of giving up the urban and suburban environments that they consider home. If the homesteading movement can build upon coming generations’ sense of belonging in more densely populated areas than we have traditionally considered to be homesteading territory, then homesteading might move closer to the core of our culture, accompanied by revisited homesteading values, skills, and technologies that t those environments.

Misconception #3: “to live a life of self-reliance”

The icons of the homesteading movement, unfortunately, have portrayed themselves (or have been portrayed by others) as virtually self-reliant individuals who retreated from society in order to live lives of utter independence. Our cultural images and casual interpretations don’t tell the whole story—of Thoreau’s trips to town for meals and supplies during his relatively short two-year stint portrayed in Walden, of the Nearings’ dependence upon visitors and apprentices for labor, of the Mother Earth back-to-the-landers who would have failed or in some cases perished were it not for the native pragmatism of their farmer neighbors. We need to recognize that homesteading is as much about recognizing interdependence as it is about seeking isolation and independence. It is also about letting go of ego. The more serious we get about ecology, the clearer it should become that a search for complete autonomy is neither laudable nor realistic.

To whatever degree interdependence was once a more accurate description of homesteading than utter independence, it is increasingly true today. We are trading our wild world for a wired world and creating a world of unprecedented “connectivity.” Meanwhile, the ecological and social challenges that we currently face make any call to disengage from society seem sel sh and shortsighted, particularly if the values, skills, and ecological understandings shared by most homesteaders are considered valuable and worth passing on to others.

If there is any misperception about homesteading that needs to be corrected, it is that homesteading is ultimately a quest for total independence. While it may be true that many of us are searching for a certain control over our lives, we need to recognize the painful irony that we are in our current national predicament because we have been living atomistic lives of wild abandon—ignoring the sum total of our individual frenzies. We now have the chance to get a hold on our households and collectively rekindle common purposes that are bigger than any one of us.

Homesteaders cannot afford to try to completely retreat from society with what are hopefully well-considered values and reasonably sophisticated ecological understandings—particularly not in a time of ecological and human peril. We need to jettison our cultural belief that homesteading must involve ascetic self-righteousness in our rural retreats and instead embrace the belief that we are collectively in search of a carefully crafted interdependence. And while this interdependence should perhaps most often be locally rooted, it must also be global in scope.

Distance, in and of itself, is not our enemy; distance is not inherently evil. Our concern should be less about distance than it is about the lack of relationships that underlie our mutual interdependence. The key is to trade anonymity and ignorance for intimacy and understanding. Distance is an ecological concern, not a moral one.

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